His last book ("Gryphon") was a collection of short stories, and he also writes essays and poetry, but Charles Baxter, author of the juicy (so says the New York Times) "The Feast of Love" and the disturbing "The Soul Thief" is a powerful, funny, dark and eloquent novelist. He was born in Minneapolis and graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, leaving to earn his Ph.D. in New York and then teach in Michigan. But for the past nine years he's been back in his home state, teaching at the University of Minnesota and writing, writing, writing.

Runner-up: Louise Erdrich